If there’s one thing that clogs March’s arteries like a double andouille sausage chili and a six-pack of Budweiser, it’s the constant barrage of NCAA March Madness inspired tournaments and brackets. In like a lion, out like a bracket busted by a 13-seed, I guess.
Don’t get me wrong - I spend a lot of time over late March and early April pouring over brackets and tournaments and pairings of all kinds. Cory Myers put together a fun one recently, though he forgot Pickle Barrel so it might as well be a scratch all the way through. I even toyed with grabbing local beer celebrities and creating a 32-beer field that would be pared down to the utter best, except that it would take a lot of work and - not sure if you noticed - I already had a VERY GRUELLING SAN DIEGO VACATION PLANNED.
That trip wasn’t easy. You try writing two beer columns and attending a web conference with those distractions within earshot. I DARE YOU.
Though I didn’t end up doing my beer tournament, I’m here to let you know you’re not at a loss. Every brewery and beer publication in the world is currently putting the finishing touches on their beer tournament, from localized to national, themed to completely random. A few worth noting:
The Washington Post created a Beer Madness tournament in their Food section - one of the best Food sections in the country, in fact - focusing on local beers. This is the way to do it, and though I haven’t tried ANY of the beers in the tournament, this format appealed to me the most.
The Liquor Store & Wine Loft of Jackson Hole does a good job of creating an IPA-only bracket that features both national beers distributed in Jackson and local beers. So far, the local beers are even with nationals, though I’ll say now that if Grand Teton Brewing’s Lost Continent doesn’t win, then the Jackson Hole area doesn’t deserve to have its own breweries anymore.
Today - the Matt Lauer-led morning show that no one likes anymore - created their own Malt Madness, which pitted the top 16 seeds in the NCAA tournament against each other based on the nearest craft brewery and highest-rated brewery beer. I don’t fully understand how this bracket was set up, but one of my favorite small breweries - Dark Horse (creators of the pretty great Crooked Tree IPA, representing Michigan State) - made it to the finals, only to lose to a brewery called Funky Buddha. So. There you go.
SB Nation also created a tournament that paired breweries with real NCAA Tournament teams. Yet, like any Cool Internet Beer Critics, they call New Belgium overrated, discount anything from Minnesota and somehow claim Bell’s for both Michigan AND Michigan State without even MENTIONING Crow Peak for SDSU. I cannot complain with the final winner (Michigan State, despite the dual claim for Michigan) but I can dispute the fact that California won over San Diego State for Russian River alone, despite San Diego being beer crazy. And, hey, did I mention that I was just in San Diego? IT’S VERY WARM THERE.
All that being said, I’d like to present my personal eight-seed Beer Tournament. Since no one is a bigger fan boy than I am, the rules are simple: we’ll watch the eight most popular Schell’s and Schell’s-bottled beers battle in a fight to the death to crown the Schell’s Fanboy Beer of the Year. (Seeds based on number of reviews on BeerAdvocate, which is probably more scientific than most of the brackets you’ll find.)
1. Schell’s Firebrick vs. 8. Schell’s Hopfenmalz I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with Firebrick - as a Vienna Lager fan, I should like it, but something has always been off for me. In other news, Hopfenmalz is hoppy and wonderful, so this is a pretty easy battle. Winner: Hopfenmalz.
4. Schell’s Oktoberfest vs. 5. Grain Belt Nordeast In what seems like an easy matchup - craft vs. adjunct! - we’ll grab our second upset of the tournament, as Nordeast pushes ahead against Schell’s Oktoberfest, a beer that’s often too sweet for its own good. Winner: Nordeast.
2. Grain Belt Premium vs. 7. Schell’s Schmaltz Alt I love Schmaltz Alt. But I can’t let the perfect lawnmowing beer - and my favorite adjunct in the history of adjuncts - come away with a loss. Winner: Grain Belt.
3. Schell’s Pils vs. 6. Schell’s Dark Not sure I’ve ever had more than one Pils, and I certainly can’t remember what it tastes like. On the other hand, Schell’s does all it can to force Dark down our throats as one of the additions to the Schell’s Sampler six-pack. Familiarity wins, I guess. Winner: Schell’s Dark.
5. Grain Belt Nordeast vs. 8. Schell’s Hopfenmalz Unlike the next semi-final, which pits two so-so beers against each other, this pairing features two of my favorite beers - a dark cheap beer that defines summer versus the 150th anniversary beer that helped me realize my love affair with Schell’s. In the end, nostalgia beats accessibility, and Nordeast goes down at the hands of a beer few have ever heard of. Winner: Schell’s Hopfenmalz.
2. Grain Belt Premium vs. 6. Schell’s Dark Seriously. Schell’s Dark only won the last battle by nature of it’s constant presence in the six-pack samplers. Now, it’s fighting a battle it never had a chance of winning. Grain Belt is college, to me, and that essence wins over random six-pack inclusion. Winner: Grain Belt.
2. Grain Belt Premium vs. 8. Schell’s Hopfenmalz The only thing that pushed Schell’s Hopfenmalz this far is that Schell’s Bock is only the 11th most reviewed beer on BeerAdvocate. Also: there’s no way Grain Belt could win this battle. Was there any doubt from the beginning who would win?
Your Schell’s Champion: Schell’s Hopfenmalz!